Pages tagged "Health and Wellbeing"
01 June 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Regional Development on the topic of lead pollution at Port Pirie.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: InDaily reported yesterday that 42 public houses are located in areas of risk to children under the age of five because they are prone to lead dust. In the article it was stated that all of those 42 homes are currently occupied by at least one child aged under five. It is understood that there is a tender open for a maintenance contractor to facilitate the planning and completion of lead abatement related works in Port Pirie.
My question to the minister is: does the Malinauskas government intend to carry out the previous government's pledge to cut lead pollution at the Port Pirie smelter, and will the government rehouse affected families while the lead abatement project is taking place?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I thank the honourable member for his question. I am happy to take that on notice and refer it to my colleagues in the other place who have direct responsibility for those matters.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: when can I expect a response?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): That will be as soon as possible.
19 May 2022
ROBERT SIMMS MLC: This is the amendment to establish the SA public health COVID-19 Direction Accountability and Oversight Committee. The intention behind this amendment is to ensure that there is maximum accountability and transparency in this bill. Like the Hon. Connie Bonaros, we had very clear feedback in the Greens that, were a bill like this to be legislated, it was really vital that the parliament have the opportunity to disallow new health directions, and that is what this committee does. It is a powerful committee in that it has all of the powers that a usual parliamentary committee has, but it will be able to review any new health directions relating to close contacts relating to COVID-positive people and be able to make recommendations to the houses of parliament for disallowance.
This, we believe, is a much more effective way of managing the pandemic directions in the long term. It provides an opportunity for parliament to really consider the impacts that these restrictions have on the health and wellbeing of South Australians. It has been based on the Victorian model, which is widely regarded as best practice. We understand there are, of course, some distinctions based on our different jurisdictions.
It is important to know that South Australia does not have a human rights charter to protect human rights, which is something the Victorian legislation has protected. Obviously, for us in the Greens we would love to see a human rights charter being put in place; that would be a very good accompaniment to the other legislation we are dealing with.
This committee will be made up of five members, two from the House of Assembly and three from the Legislative Council. The amendment would ensure there is a majority of non-government members. That is a really important inclusion worth highlighting, because it means the government is not in a position to dominate this committee. It means the committee will be able to provide frank, fearless advice, genuinely independent advice, direct to the parliament for its consideration.
The committee will be in place only for the duration of the bill. We agreed earlier today that would be six months. It will provide reports to each house of parliament, it will make recommendations to parliament. There is also a requirement that the minister will table a copy of any directions within two sitting days in each house, and that any such direction is then referred to the committee. As I stated, this allows for disallowance in both houses.
We think this is a really important addition. It is one that will provide better outcomes in terms of directions but also give the South Australian people a level of confidence that the parliament is having oversight over these important directions.
We talked a little bit about the evolving space of this pandemic. We have come out of the phase where these decisions were being made by health experts alone, and are now moving into another phase of the pandemic where politicians and the parliament need to be more actively involved. It is only appropriate that if the health minister is being charged with making these directions, the parliament has a role to play and that there is an independent oversight that operates outside of the government. We think this is a really important step in that regard.
18 May 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak in relation to the State Assets (Privatisation Restrictions) Bill. This bill seeks to prevent the sale, disposal or lease of certain state-owned assets unless reviewed and recommended by a parliamentary committee and approved by both houses of parliament. Privatisation has had a disastrous impact on South Australia and it has been a bipartisan sport here in SA, a joint project of the Labor and Liberal parties. Both have an appalling record when it comes to selling off our state assets.
We have seen the negative outcomes of privatisation on South Australia's rail network, on our housing and our energy providers. Privatisation has resulted in degradation of infrastructure and a reduction in services. These things are well known and they are well documented. Past governments have seen privatisation as a measure to boost proceeds and to reduce spending, while the public have suffered the consequences.
In 2001, SA Unions argued that publicly owned assets and public services are funded by South Australians to meet the needs of the community, not to generate profits for corporations. We in the Greens agree. Last year, the ACCC chair, Rod Sims (spelt S-i-m-s, not a relation) said that privatising assets without allowing for competition or regulation creates private monopolies that raise prices, that reduce efficiency and harm the economy.
The privatisation of ETSA is one of the worst examples we have seen in South Australia. We all know the devastating impacts that privatisation project had on our state. It has delivered higher electricity prices and the public know it. Research from the Australian Institute back in 2019 found that 40 per cent of South Australians blame privatisation of our state-owned electricity provider as the single biggest reason for power price increases, while three out of five people (60 per cent) consider it to be one of the main sources of upward pressure on prices. That makes sense because we know that once you sell off a key asset you lose government control and you allow private corporations that are focused on making money to hike up prices.
In the 1990s, the Public Service Association warned that increased privatisation would result in profits being put before services, higher costs for taxpayers, less efficient services and a diminished revenue base for the state. These outcomes have been seen in the years that have followed. It is our most vulnerable people who bear the burden of increased costs and diminished services.
As the cost of living continues to skyrocket as a result of inflation, we have a responsibility to consider in this place the impact of privatisation on public utilities that are relied on by all members of our community. This bill would act as an important safeguard for our public assets. It would ensure that governments cannot conduct future sell-offs without appropriate parliamentary oversight. We want to see community services being put before private profits.
Last year, the Select Committee on the Privatisation of Public Services in South Australia, which I had the honour to chair, heard from witnesses that there was a need for improved transparency measures in relation to current and future privatisations. Under this bill, any future attempts of privatisation of state assets would require the government of the day, whether it be Labor or whether it be Liberal, to convince both houses of parliament on the merits of the case and that would increase transparency and accountability.
I must acknowledge that this is not a new concept. A very similar bill was introduced in New South Wales by the Labor MP Daniel Mookhey and it passed the upper house in late 2021. As a result of that reform, New South Wales has seen greater parliamentary oversight over privatisation and that is considered a really important safeguard in that state.
I hope that we in this place will follow their lead. It is certainly my hope—hope springs eternal—that the Labor government will see merit in this proposal, given it has been advocated for by the Labor opposition in New South Wales, but that the Liberal opposition will see the merits of this proposal as well, because it is a safeguard that would operate irrespective of who is in government.
I do want to put the old parties on notice that we will be bringing this to a vote, not today obviously, but in the fullness of time I will bring it to a vote to test support for this very important proposition so that the people of South Australia can see who is in favour of stopping privatisation, who is in favour of more safeguards and who is supportive of the fire sale that we have seen over the last several decades.
Under previous governments, trams, trains, medical administration, the Remand Centre and service centres have all been privatised. We need to protect our state-owned assets from future cost-saving cash grabs. This bill enables future privatisations not to proceed without parliamentary approval. It ensures that there is more transparency, and that can only be good for the people of our state. I commend the bill to the Legislative Council.
17 May 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak on the South Australian Public Health (COVID-19) Amendment Bill on behalf of the Greens. The Greens are supportive of this legislation, but with some very important caveats. My colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks MLC has certainly prosecuted this case for the Greens in the previous parliament, that is, advocated in the long term for these provisions to move out of the emergency management declaration into legislation so that the parliament can have appropriate oversight.
We recognise that in a democracy like South Australia it is not appropriate to have a regime in place where the parliament is not having a say and where we have unelected officials making significant decisions about our health, our wellbeing and, of course, our civil liberties.
One of the things I think we all recognise in this place is the leadership of the public health experts who have informed our response to the pandemic over the last two years. One of the things that I think set South Australia apart from many other places around the world was the willingness of the previous government to follow the health advice, and I want to recognise the leadership of the health minister at that time, who is here in this chamber, the Hon. Stephen Wade, for his leadership in dealing with what I can imagine would have been one of the most challenging periods that any government would face, and that is a global pandemic. I do want to acknowledge that.
Now that we are moving into another phase of this pandemic, the time has come for the parliament to play a much more active role, and so from the Greens' perspective we welcome these provisions being now codified in legislation. As I say, we also want to ensure that there are safeguards in place.
One of the key concerns for us in the Greens has been putting in place a parliamentary committee. We have, I am pleased to say, been negotiating and discussing the prospect of that with the government and with the crossbench. What the committee that we are proposing will achieve is ensure that there is parliamentary oversight. That committee will have the power to make recommendations for directions to be disallowed, and I think that is going to be an important step in terms of how we manage this pandemic going forward. It also means that, from the perspective of the Greens, we will not be pursuing some of the other amendments that I have flagged previously, because we will have this important safeguard in place.
The other thing for us that is vitally important is around ensuring that there is the opportunity for appeal. One of the issues that we will be talking about a bit more during the committee stage is amendments that look at ensuring that there is a right of appeal for people who are being detained, that is, people who are being held under the Public Health Act in hotel quarantine, for instance, that they have the opportunity to make an appeal and to make the case for their personal circumstances.
With those important caveats—the right for this parliament to disallow ministerial directions, the minister giving updates on those directions to this parliament and the oversight of a parliamentary committee that is not dominated by the government—on the basis of those important safeguards, or with those important safeguards in place, the Greens will be supporting this bill.
9 February 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I want to start by acknowledging the excellent work of the people involved in this committee, obviously my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks and the other members, because I think this committee has provided some really important oversight of this public health disaster and the government response, so it is really critical and important work.
I have not really spoken about COVID in general terms during my time here, so I want to use this opportunity to talk a little bit about some of the concerns I have around the state government's response and the federal government's response. Some of those are informed by my own experience with COVID over the Christmas break. Members will be aware that I picked up the virus at an event I went to on 27 December and tested positive on New Year's Day. It was not quite the positive note I was hoping for as I started 2022.
What was really interesting for me, though, was that it did provide an insight into the support that is provided to people living with the virus. I received daily text messages from SA Health asking about my wellbeing. As part of that regime, a number was provided for people with COVID to call if they would like assistance. One particular day my symptoms started off being very mild, but as I moved through the virus they became a little bit more serious and I was feeling quite unwell—certainly not unwell enough to call 000, but unwell enough to feel like I might want to get some advice from a health professional.
I contacted the number that was provided. I was required to go through a series of prompts over the phone and eventually told that I was around No. 60 in the queue. There was no estimated wait time and there was no option to leave a number for you to get a call back, so I simply hung up. In my case, I am in a fortunate position as a member of this parliament to be able to afford to organise a GP consult, do a telehealth session and to get advice at my own expense, but not everybody in the South Australian community is able to do that.
I am particularly concerned about elderly people, those who are living alone, those who may not be proficient with technology, for whom a text message is perhaps an inadequate form of communication. What support is provided to them as they try to negotiate this pandemic? What advice are they given? We keep being told—indeed, it is the mantra of the Liberal Party at both the state and federal level—that the Omicron variant is mild, but in clinical terms what that means is not hospitalisation. Mild means different things to different people.
All members of the South Australian community should have access to health advice. I am very concerned that simply receiving a text message, with no follow-up call, is an inadequate way to treat vulnerable people who are experiencing a virus that many of us have never encountered before. Certainly from my own experience, talking with different people in my friendship group and others I know who have had COVID-19, the virus impacts everybody differently and there is a need to receive follow-up calls and support, and that simply has not been provided by the government.
What they do provide is a highly complex and poorly designed website with a series of rules and directions that change almost on a daily basis, making it very difficult for people to comply with the health directives and to understand what is required of them when they are dealing with the virus. They provide no advice on what is considered normal in terms of recovery or what one might expect. I think the Prime Minister's advice has been to contact your GP, but of course we know that is not always possible. It can be very difficult for people to find an appointment with a GP.
That brings me to one of the key points I want to make here around the incompetence of the Morrison government in Canberra. It is an incompetence that has started in Canberra and I fear has moved all the way down here to North Terrace. It started with the Liberal Party's appalling handling of hotel quarantine, the botched rollout of the vaccine, where people under 40 were required to wait months and months and months before they had access to the COVID-19 vaccine and were provided with contradictory and unhelpful public health advice, with no clear directive from the government before they were able to access the vaccine.
I think it is appalling that a country with our resources did not make that the number one priority for the year 2021, yet sadly many Australians, including people in our own state, were waiting for months and months before they were able to get access to a first and second dose of the vaccine. We now know, of course, that as a result there will be delays in people getting access to their booster—simply not good enough for a country with our resources not to be able to meet the needs of its residents in that way. I must say that the leadership of our Prime Minister has been severely lacking. It is hard to think of a more incompetent Prime Minister in the modern age. He has certainly failed to manage this public health emergency.
I also want to focus on the state government's response in South Australia and the decision to open the borders late last year. No-one, I am sure, would argue that we were going to keep borders closed indefinitely here in our state—I think people recognised that borders had to be opened at some point—but there was an expectation and a hope that the planning would be done, that the government had planned for this contingency, that the appropriate resources were going to be made available when we saw a spike in COVID infections, that businesses would get the support that they needed and that public health would get the resources required.
We know, of course, that did not happen. Chaos ensued for our city businesses. Walking through the CBD (I live in town), I have seen the devastation that has been wrought on our business community. Many I have spoken to have told me that they have had their worst Christmas season in decades and decades. Again, there has not been adequate support provided by the Liberal government in South Australia or, indeed, in Canberra—once again, a huge disappointment and a missed opportunity.
My colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks talked about the lack of access to rapid antigen tests—another bizarre failure of leadership from the state government. It is difficult to fathom why rapid antigen tests were not made available for sale in South Australia prior to the Christmas period. Indeed, it is easier to get COVID in South Australia than it is to get a rapid antigen test. That is disgraceful.
It is appalling that South Australians required to meet testing requirements were expected to sit and queue for hours and hours and hours in the lead-up to the Christmas period. It is a disgrace that some of those South Australians were waiting for 11 hours or more in their cars on hot days while feeling unwell in order to access a test. Surely we can do better than that. It is appalling that there is only one facility provided for people who do not have a car.
During the Christmas break, when I needed to access a testing facility, I went to the RAH. I got there at 5.30 in the morning, it opened at 6.30, and at that time there was already an enormous queue. By 7.30am, people waiting were told that the testing facility was not going to be taking any more walk-ins that morning because it was closing at 10.30am—again, poor planning, poor resourcing, simply not good enough.
I think South Australians have a right to be angry about what has unfolded in our state and our nation over the last 12 months—the failure to plan appropriately, the failure to appropriately invest resources and the failure to support vulnerable people during this time of crisis. When I asked questions of the Minister for Health yesterday about the information provided to people with COVID, he directed me to a general information line. That was telling because I do not think the minister is aware of the poor level of support provided to people with COVID-19 in our community. That needs to improve.
If we are seriously going to live with this virus, expecting people to queue for hours and hours and hours in testing stations and expecting people to wait for hours and hours and hours on the phone just to speak to a health professional has to change. That is not living with the virus: that is creating chaos and confusion and putting people at risk of serious ill health. If we want people to test, then they should be able to access rapid tests, they should be able to access a PCR test, and those things need to be resourced appropriately by government.
We also have seen no plan from the Liberals in terms of the implications of long COVID and what that means. We know that COVID-19 is a viral infection that can produce lasting consequences. I am yet to see the Liberals at a state or federal level talk about their plan to deal with that. Once again, we see a lot of bloviating from the Prime Minister over in Canberra, talking up the mildness of the COVID-19 pandemic. We do not see a lot of talk about what his plan is to actually try to get on top of this pandemic. It is not good enough. South Australians deserve so much better.
10 February 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:
That this council—
- Notes the extension to the moratorium on eviction from residential tenancies for the non-payment of rent due to severe rental distress as a result of COVID-19, expired in December.
- Recognises that the current outbreak of the Omicron variant, and subsequent restrictions have had a devastating impact on businesses across the state, particularly those in the CBD, with many now being unable to meet rent payments.
Calls on the Marshall government to—
- (a) immediately provide a moratorium on eviction for residential and commercial tenancies for six months in circumstances where tenants are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19; and
- (b) provide a more generous and effective financial support package for businesses that are experiencing financial distress.
This motion calls for an extension to the moratorium on eviction from residential tenancies for the non-payment of rent due to severe rental distress as a result of COVID-19, and we note that that expired in December. It recognises that the current outbreak of the Omicron variant following the Liberals' decision to open the borders without appropriate preparation, which occurred last year, has led to a series of restrictions that have had a devastating impact on businesses across the state, particularly those in the CBD, with many people now being unable to make rent payments.
The motion calls on the Marshall government to immediately provide a moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenancies for six months in circumstances where tenants are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19, and provide a more generous and effective financial support package for businesses that are experiencing financial distress.
This is not new to this chamber; I have talked a lot about this issue since I began my term in the parliament back in May last year. At that time, the moratorium on evictions for people experiencing financial distress was due to expire and the Greens worked hard to get it extended and appreciated the support of other parties here in this place to make that happen. We were able to secure an extension of the moratorium until December, but it expired in the lead-up to Christmas.
I am very concerned that as the economic crisis and the public health crisis have deepened, vulnerable people are not getting the protection they need. We know that if somebody is evicted out of rental accommodation they are at high risk of falling into homelessness and insecure accommodation, and that can really create long-term issues for somebody in terms of being able to access housing and have a roof over their head and a place to call home long term.
I am also very concerned about the plight of many businesses in the CBD, many of which are renting commercial tenancies. I have spoken to many businesses, and I am aware of many that are reporting that it is going to be really difficult for them to pay their rent and that, if they cannot do so, their business is going to close. What I am calling for is for the government to put a moratorium on these evictions and to actually provide some adequate support to struggling businesses.
I recognise the government have put forward a support package, but it has been inadequate. It has not hit the mark. We need to ensure that there is a more appropriate investment in support for businesses that are struggling and for vulnerable renters. I do say also that I hope that after the next election in the parliament we have an opportunity to review renters' rights here in South Australia and take steps to strengthen renters' rights more broadly.
We need to look at rent caps. It works in other places around the world, yet we have not used it here in South Australia. There is something seriously wrong when we have a housing system that treats housing as a commodity. We have a housing system that allows some people to own numerous properties when others do not have a foot in the door, do not have a place to call home, do not have a roof over their head.
I think there is something seriously wrong with that system. We need to recognise that housing is a human right. That means changing the Residential Tenancies Act to restore the balance between tenant and landlord. It means ending things like the no cause eviction process we have in South Australia. Mr Deputy President, you would be aware that when somebody reaches the end of their tenancy the landlord can simply say, 'We are not going to renew your tenancy.'
That creates a lot of anxiety for renters. It means that they are often reluctant to report issues around inadequate housing, or report maintenance issues that need to be actioned, because they live in fear and anxiety that their tenancy may be terminated or may not be renewed. That is a terrible thing and it puts tenants and it puts renters really at a significant disadvantage in terms of being able to assert their rights.
But there are other things that other states look at too. I know my predecessor in this place, the then Hon. Mark Parnell, introduced a private member's bill to provide a presumption in favour of tenants being able to have pets. Other states have done that, but we do not do that in South Australia. That needs to be looked at. Also, we have bidding wars that occur in South Australia, where if someone is trying to get a rental property they are often at the mercy of a market that allows people to just bid against each other. All these things need to be addressed.
We need to amend the Residential Tenancies Act to ensure that renters get the protection they deserve, but in the short term the government should step up and provide protection for renters experiencing financial distress during this economic crisis. I asked the minister about this yesterday. I did not receive a satisfactory answer in terms of what measures are in place to help people. It is not good enough to say, 'We will refer you on to a support service.' We need to ensure that people have protection now. We need to ensure that they know they are not going to be evicted, that they are not going to be kicked out onto the street.
Anyone who lives in the CBD area will be aware of the significant issue we face around homelessness in our state. It is a significant problem for us to address. It is deeply saddening to see more and more South Australians sleeping on the street. If we do not put these sorts of protections in place, I am very concerned that we are going to see more and more South Australians living on the streets and facing insecure housing. I commend the motion.
The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (11:46): I rise today in support of the Hon. Rob Simms' motion and thank him for his advocacy of some of the state's most vulnerable citizens in our community. When we think of the basic needs we all have, secure housing is right at the top of that list. All members of this place should be aware of the ongoing rental affordability crisis in our state. Given previous debates in this place just this week, we should all be aware of the impact of COVID-19 on the financial security of many casual workers.
While those opposite claim that their government was well prepared before the opening of our borders in November, we have many examples of the impacts they were not prepared for. Some seem not to have even been considered at all. Being prepared means planning for events before they occur. It means looking to see what happened in the past and what has happened in other states and predicting what might happen and what the impact could be. After all, it is only the government that has the most recent Omicron modelling available to them. It means learning from the past so that the outcome is better the second time around.
Two years into this pandemic, this government can hardly say the impacts of COVID-19 on our small businesses and financially vulnerable citizens were unpredictable. This government had two years of lessons from other jurisdictions. Not only could they learn from the experience of other places that had a suite of policies that had been designed to avoid the worst impacts of the pandemic ready to go but, instead of learning the lessons or maintaining these policies, this government opened up with no safety nets and no protection.
The Marshall Liberal government let our small businesses, casual employees and our most vulnerable citizens bear the brunt of COVID-19, when they should have been more prepared to protect them. Back in September, we saw the expiry of sections 8 to 10 of the COVID-19 emergency act, which had, up until then, put in place protections for rental and commercial tenants experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID pandemic. These protections protected tenants from increased rents and terminations of tenancy if the tenant was unable to pay rent due to the impact of COVID-19 on their business or employment.
Those opposite might have hoped that we were all suffering from short-term memory loss, Omicron may have been new and we may not have known much about that variant, but we did have some idea of the impact any variant of COVID-19 would have on our workforce and any business, especially the hospitality sector. The Hon. Robert Simms touched on this, but the hospitality sector has been particularly impacted.
This government did not even need to look that far to see what potential effects may occur. They could have looked to our neighbours in Sydney and Melbourne to see the impacts our state would face when this outbreak would eventually hit. In Sydney and Melbourne, casual workers were again losing shifts and their personal financial security. Mixed messages and unclear communications of restrictions saw small business hit by the shadow lockdowns—that is, customers avoiding businesses they perceived as dangerous.
In New South Wales, although dining was not restricted beyond one in two square metres, not only were concerned customers staying away and leaving dining rooms empty but staff who had no isolation available to them were unable to work. Some businesses were losing so many staff as close contacts that they were unable to be open.
As I mentioned already, all this was happening before the much more highly transmissible Omicron began to circulate in our community. The writing was on the wall. The protections for residential and commercial tenants had expired and alarm bells were being rung by multiple organisations and industry associations—as well as my colleague the Hon. Rob Simms—about the bomb that was about to go off in our state.
Yet, nothing from this government. No plan and no protections for those at risk were put in place. When this government could have extended sections 8 to 10 of the act, which would have provided a safety net in case an outbreak caused the same issues that were unfolding in other jurisdictions, it instead let them expire.
When COVID-19 first came to South Australia, the stress of the financial impacts that would be overwhelmingly borne by our casual staff and small businesses was blunted by protections put in place by the federal and state governments. JobKeeper, eviction moratoriums, tax breaks, grants and other incentives were used by all other layers of government to buoy the economy from the worst impacts of this pandemic.
These economic levers recognised the potential for the pandemic to cause significant and lasting damage. Of course no-one expected these things to last forever, only for as long as they were needed, for as long as COVID-19 threatened to wreak havoc in our community. So why was it, when our state was experiencing the pandemic most acutely, we were taking away the restrictions that the community needed?
The decision to let sections 8 to 10 expire has caused additional stress to thousands of vulnerable South Australians who are at risk of eviction through no fault of their own but from a lack of planning by this government for the predictable impacts of COVID-19, impacts that were obvious even before Omicron. We remain in the middle of a global pandemic and are feeling the worst of it in South Australia in our community without the safety nets designed to navigate the pandemic at its worst.
Labor will be supporting the Hon. Rob Simms' motion and calls upon the Marshall Liberal government to learn from their mistakes and support South Australians by recalling this parliament—which might be too late—to fix sections 8 to 10 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act.
8 February 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a short statement before asking a question of the Minister for Health and Wellbeing regarding COVID-19.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: As the minister would be aware, I, along with thousands of other South Australians, was unfortunate enough to catch the COVID-19 virus during the Christmas holiday period. On one of my days in isolation when I was feeling unwell, I called the COVID helpline provided through text message communication with SA Health to discuss my symptoms. When I rang the number provided and answered a series of prompts, I was told by an automated voice that I was No. 60 in the queue.
Rather than waiting for hours on the phone to speak to a human being, I hung up and arranged a telehealth appointment at my own expense. Of course, many South Australians are not in a position to do that. Can the minister advise what the standard wait time was for people calling the dedicated COVID-19 line over the Christmas period and what the wait time is today?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I make the point to the honourable member that I can't actually advise how long a 60-person queue would take to get through. I wasn't going to assume, like the honourable member did, that that would have been an inordinate amount of time.
The honourable member refers to the period between Christmas and the new year. Coincidentally, that period on 31 December was the first time active cases went over 10,000, in fact almost 11,000 active cases on New Year's Eve. It had only for the first time gone over a thousand active cases on 22 December, when there were 1,214. In the space of about 12 days, we had roughly a nine or tenfold increase in the number of cases.
I certainly regret that the honourable member found that the service was not prompt enough for him, but what I would remind the honourable member is that during that period we had hundreds of SA Health team members giving up their Christmas, their new year, to rapidly escalate a support network which has supported thousands of people during the pandemic. I think I saw a figure earlier today that suggested that since the borders were opened on 23 November, we had 115,000 cases in South Australia, so that has been a massive effort from the SA Health network to respond to the care needs of South Australians with COVID-19. I can't immediately identify the wait time for what I think would be the COVID Response Care Team, not the COVID-19 Information Line or the COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line, but I do have current figures for those two lines. In relation to the SA COVID-19 Information Line—1800 253 787—the average wait time is 11 seconds and the average talk time is three minutes 25 seconds.
In relation to the SA COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line, which is 1800 632 753, the average wait time is 19 seconds and the average call duration is 20 minutes.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: can the minister provide the wait time for the information line that I and others suffering with COVID-19 would have been referred to—that is the line that provides medical assistance—and if the minister doesn't think that 60 callers in a queue is a long period of time to wait, how long does he think South Australians should wait on a line before they receive medical assistance when dealing with a potentially deadly virus?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:18): Let me clarify: I wasn't reflecting on the honourable member in the sense of his view that he wasn't getting an adequate service. I was just raising the point that, with a large call centre, 60 calls could be gone through quite quickly. Certainly, in response to the honourable member's direct question, I will certainly perhaps get indicative wait times over the period.
01 December 2021
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise in support of the motion moved by my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks. This year's World AIDS Day marks 40 years since the beginning of the AIDS crisis and 30 years since the red ribbon came to represent the international symbol of AIDS awareness. Despite the significant strides that have been made, as my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks has stated, HIV continues to be a global health issue—36.3 million lives have been lost over the last four decades.
The World Health Organization estimates that 37.7 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2020, over two-thirds of whom (25.4 million) are in the World Health Organization's African region. In 2020, 680,000 people died from HIV-related causes and 1.5 million people acquired HIV. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an insight into the fear and anxiety that must have been experienced 40 years ago.
The US government website HIV.gov provides a time line of these events, and I think it is appropriate to revisit these today. On 5 June 1981, the US Center for Disease Control published an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in Los Angeles. The article documented a rare lung infection that had affected five gay men and reported that these men had other health conditions as well. These seemed to indicate that their immune systems were not working. All of these men subsequently died of what we now to be the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
In the months that followed, there were more reports of rare health conditions, cancers among gay men in New York and California. By 2 July, the gay press in San Francisco was reporting the emergence of what they referred to as 'gay men’s pneumonia'. The following day, the New York Times published a story under the headline 'Rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals', and so it was that this concept of gay cancer found its way into mainstream reporting.
In August of that year, the writer and activist Larry Kramer held a meeting of gay men in New York to discuss the response to the crisis. There was no access to rapid funding for research and so the group raised money, a little over $6,000. That was the only money that was raised in that year to fight the epidemic. In December, a paediatric immunologist, Dr Arye Rubinstein, reported the birth of five infants who were born with severe immune deficiencies. They showed very similar symptoms to the conditions that had been reported months earlier among gay men, but the diagnosis was dismissed by his colleagues.
On 10 December 40 years ago, Bobbi Campbell, a nurse from San Francisco, became the first person to reveal their diagnosis of what was then referred to as Kaposi's sarcoma. Campbell died at age 32 in 1984 of what we now know to have been AIDS. By the end of 1981, there were 337 reports of people with the new disease, 321 adults and 16 children under the age of 13—this was just in the United States—and 130 of those people had died by the end of that year. Yet the US Congress would not pass a bill for funding targeted at HIV or AIDS research until May 1983. US President Ronald Reagan did not even mention the virus in any public speeches until September 1985. By December of that year, the United Nations was reporting that HIV was prevalent in every region of the world. By 1992, AIDS was the number one cause of death for men in the United States aged between 25 and 45.
As a gay man, I am in awe of the strength and resilience of people in my community who saw the deaths of friends and loved ones at that time and who fought so hard for HIV and AIDS to get the focus that we know that it needs. I also want to reflect on the lives that were lost, in particular the many young gay men. Many were separated from family and friends and forced to die alone facing terrible stigma. It must have been a very frightening time. The amazing strides that have been made in research and treatment would not have happened if not for the work and the leadership of gay activists and their allies. These were brave, courageous people and they deserve to be honoured today.
There have been some remarkable innovations in the treatment and the diagnosis of HIV in recent years: rapid testing, the availability of prep, improved antiviral treatments. These are all great things, and I know that they are really improving people's lives. As a result of these innovations, people living with HIV can now live long and healthy lives but only if they get access to treatment. Despite these innovations, we have lots of work still to do to end this virus. Targets for combating HIV last year were sadly not met.
The theme for this year's World AIDS Day is 'End inequalities. End AIDS'. This is very timely because there is a terrible inequality in terms of access to HIV treatment. COVID-19 is only making access to health services more challenging. There are more than 25 million people in Africa living with HIV, and the World Health Organization fears that we could see a worst-case scenario of 7.7 million deaths from HIV over the next 10 years if we do not move to meet our targets. That is because of the impact of access to HIV services and treatment of COVID-19.
We have a moral responsibility in Australia to do what we can to support the global efforts to combat HIV, and to ensure that more people get access to these life-changing and life-saving treatments. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that governments around the world can work together to take action. We need this same vision and unity of purpose when it comes to dealing with HIV. I commend the motion.
18 November 2021
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:14): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Treasurer on the topic of business support during COVID-19.
A report released earlier this week found that the amount of vacant retail space in the Adelaide CBD is at its highest level since 1993. With South Australia's borders set to open on Tuesday, Business SA CEO, Martin Haese, has called for the federal and state governments to provide reasonable financial support to those businesses that are forced to close down due to staff being in quarantine. My question to the Treasurer therefore is: what is the government's plan to assist or compensate businesses that will be impacted by COVID-19 in the weeks ahead, and what is the government's plan to reduce shop vacancies in the CBD?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): If I could just lower the temperature of question time a little bit and modulate and moderate my voice a little, the second part of the question is relatively easy; that is, the only solution to challenges for job growth and economic growth is actually to adopt the sort of policies this government is adopting to grow the economy and grow jobs.
I would imagine the Greens would support the position this government is putting that there is no earthly reason why our state's economic growth and jobs growth shouldn't at least track at around about the national average over a long period of time. For 20 years, we have tracked at about half or two-thirds of the national average.
If we want to keep young South Australians in South Australia and if we want to attract people to South Australia, we have to make sure that jobs growth and economic growth track at around about the national average during that period. The only sensible way of doing that is to make sure that the costs of doing business in our state are competitive nationally and internationally. We do not have to be the cheapest jurisdiction in the nation or the world, but we certainly can't afford to be the most expensive.
We have to be competitive, because all the other attributes that we have and we love—the fact that we are the third most livable city in the world, the most livable city in Australia, our work-life balance arrangements, the fact that we have a government which is leading the nation and is one of the leaders in the world in terms of zero emissions and renewable energy policies—all of those attractions that we have, all of those things, are inbuilt ticks and attractions for people to want to invest and to grow jobs in the state.
The only solution to the sort of issues Martin Haese and others are identifying in terms of jobs, not just in the CBD but in the regions and in the suburbs as well, is that we have to have an environment that allows people to grow jobs. In the CBD, what we are seeing with the announcement cognisant today, PwC and others coming to the CBD, albeit at Lot Fourteen and the eastern end of CBD Adelaide, nevertheless still the CBD, is thousands and thousands of jobs both now and over the future for people in the CBD. What that does is it gives the capacity for cafes and restaurants and others to do business in the city. That's the challenge that this government has.
I could speak further, but I won't. Not that this was a Dorothy Dixer; this came from the Hon. Mr Simms. It is almost a Dorothy Dixer but I won't treat it as a Dorothy Dixer—I won't on the second part of the question. The first part of the question is, and I responded to that question I think from the Hon. Mr Pangallo earlier in the week, that we recently applied to the federal government for assistance for the relief programs and grant programs provided to Mount Gambier. The federal government said, consistent with their public policies nationally, they are moving away from providing federally funded business assistance. For that reason, in Mount Gambier we went ahead and we funded the Mount Gambier assistance for the period of the lockdown, as a state government.
There is nothing that currently exists in relation to ongoing business support, to answer the question specifically. We will monitor what, if anything, other state governments do. At this stage, we are not aware of any ongoing state government funded programs. We are not aware of any federal government funded programs in relation to the specific circumstances to which Martin Haese and the honourable member have referred. We will monitor it, but at this stage the answer to the question is that we do not have current programs that meet that particular descriptor the honourable member has asked about.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: just to confirm, Treasurer, aside from monitoring you are not doing anything in terms of providing any support to businesses at the moment?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): No, we actually provided state government funded assistance to Mount Gambier recently. In relation to what might exist today, the answer to the question is we are doing a lot. We are trying to reduce the cost of doing business for everybody so that their businesses can grow. If you are talking about: do we have a grant program for those businesses that are failing and are in trouble? We do not have a grant program at the moment for those businesses that are failing, or closing, or running into specific problems in relation to COVID. I can't be any more explicit than that. It is a direct answer to a direct question.
17 November 2021
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing on the topic of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout for those experiencing homelessness.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Back in July, the government announced its trial COVID-19 vaccination clinic for South Australians experiencing homelessness in the city, as part of its outreach program. Given South Australia's borders are set to open next Tuesday and there are an estimated 6,000 people in South Australia currently experiencing homelessness, it's critical that the vaccine rollout continues to prioritise some of our most vulnerable. My question to the minister therefore is: is the government confident that the 80 per cent vaccination target to trigger the reopening of our borders will be met with those experiencing homelessness?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:04): Starting my answer to the honourable member's question, there are difficulties in terms of assessing the level of vaccine take-up amongst the homeless community. One of the factors there is that people experiencing mental health issues, domestic violence, homelessness or a combination of these issues are not required to self-identify for the purpose of recording their vaccination status on the Australian immunisation record. This is for their safety and wellbeing, but it does mean that it is very difficult to determine how many people experiencing homelessness have been vaccinated.
The government is continuing to roll out a targeted campaign to deal with vulnerable groups, such as people experiencing homelessness. In the context of homelessness we are working particularly with key stakeholders, like the alliances and the larger providers of homeless services, to provide access to the vaccines. SA Health, the Ambulance Service and the sector are partnering to deliver a tailored approach to the vaccination of people experiencing homelessness.
I was privileged to launch the rollout for people sleeping rough in July this year at Westcare, a launch that attracted national interest. Since then, the rollout has continued across the metropolitan area, with vaccination sites being used, including SHINE, mental health facilities in the Parklands, and mobile services targeting vulnerable groups, which have been active in the suburbs of Playford, Gawler, Onkaparinga and in the regions.
The Central Adelaide Local Health Network is providing vaccines to people who attend the Hutt Street Centre, with additional vaccination services provided to a range of organisations working with the homeless community, including the Salvation Army homeless service, the Western Adelaide Homelessness Service, Streetlink, Uniting Care Gawler, Fred's Van and St Vincent de Paul Society. Vaccinations have also been provided in clinics for people experiencing domestic and family violence.
The government is continuing its efforts to ensure the vaccine is widely available, and that all vulnerable cohorts are a priority. More than 2.4 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered. I want to thank all South Australians who have rolled up their sleeve to be vaccinated, and encourage those who haven't to present at one of our clinics or engage with a GP or pharmacy. The vaccine is our pathway out of the pandemic, and it has never been easier to be vaccinated.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary question: noting the minister's reply, can the minister explain how close the government is to the 80 per cent vaccination target for people who are homeless, and can he provide specific information on what process is in place to ensure booster shots are being made available to those who are homeless?
The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:07): With regard to the second question of booster shots, it is certainly our anticipation that we will continue to partner within SA Health and with our partners to continue deliver vaccines into next year, including booster shots. The booster shots are particularly recommended for vulnerable communities, so it will be a particular focus with vulnerable communities. I do not have specific data in relation to the percentage of homeless people who are thought to have been vaccinated, but I will see what information I can obtain for the honourable member.